West African countries to boost sustainable fisheries

26 Nov 2014
Essaouira fishing port, Morocco. Credit: Daniel*D/CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Essaouira fishing port, Morocco. Credit: Daniel*D/CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0, via Wikimedia Commons

West African countries are cracking down on illegal fishing and starting to launch community rights based fisheries as part of new efforts to introduce sustainable fisheries management and protect their valuable marine resources.

Intended to extend the economic benefit from fisheries to a wider section of the population in future, national authorities in Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde already are seeing positive early results from tougher protection and various other measures adopted under a five year World Bank-backed regional programme to establish sustainable fisheries management systems in a number of important West African marine fishery nations.

West Africa is seriously impacted by illegal fishing with fish worth an estimated US$100 million being taken illegally from territorial waters across the region each year. In addition to illegal fishing, many West African countries lack the necessary fishing port infrastructure to allow industrial scale fishing vessels to land their catch.

This situation is holding back the development of fish processing and other downstream activities that would increase the value of fisheries to the region’s national economies.

Backed by soft loans and grant aid worth around US$56 million in total, the West Africa fisheries management programme is being implemented in two phases. To increase its effectiveness, the scheme also is designed to act as a model for sustainable fisheries development in other neighbouring countries.

Sustainable fisheries rely on robust management to tackle illegal fishing and control access to fishery resources. With this in mind, project consultants have assisted fishery authorities in the four participating countries strengthen their national fisheries governance as part of the first phase of the programme.

The results already have been dramatic - the fight against illegal fishing being particularly successful in countries suffering the most from illegal fishing activities. 

Improved detection of illegal fishing has been assisted by increased radar and satellite-based fishing vessel monitoring by all four countries, compared with only Senegal previously. 

In addition, a greater number of marine patrols is enabling national fishing authorities to catch more illegal vessels that their new vessel monitoring systems now are detecting.

Liberia, for example, has reported an 83% reduction in illegal fishing. In addition a number of fraudulent licenses have been discovered by fishery officials, worth more than annual revenues collected from official fishing licenses, the World Bank recently reported, revealing a pattern of fraud that operated in the past.

An idea of the value of lost fishery resources from illegal fishing can be seen from the case of the South Korean-owned, Sierra Leone-licensed Nine Star fishing boat which Liberia’s Ministry of Agriculture arrested for illegal fishing in the third quarter of 2013. 

The ministry later officially reported that it had auctioned the illegal catch for US$216,000, and in a warning to other illegal operators, the ministry fined the Nine Star’s owners $1 million for illegal fishing in Liberian territorial waters.

Tackling illegal inshore fishing benefits local fishing communities in addition to reducing lost government revenue. 

In Sierra Leone and Liberia, successful efforts to remove illegal trawlers from a three mile inner zone in coastal waters have cleared space for artisanal fishermen in local fishing villages to exploit. In Sierra Leone, some fishing villages have reported increases in catch of up to 42% in fishing grounds where illegal vessels previously operated.

Cape Verde’s fishing industry also is benefiting from government measures to strengthen sustainable fisheries management and fight illegal fishing which have included setting up a marine fisheries observer programme.

The efforts are important as the European Union in a recent assessment has commended Cape Verde’s effort to tackle illegal fishing, which is a condition for the country to be permitted to export fishery products to the EU.

Increased revenues
Measures to strengthen sustainable fisheries management and fight illegal fishing already have increased government revenues in some West African countries.

In Sierra Leone, for example, improved governance in the fisheries administration has resulted in official revenues from the fisheries sector increasing to US$3.8 million in 2013, more than four times the $900,000 recorded in 2008.

In Senegal, the introduction of community-led fisheries management systems has been successful in restoring depleted fishery resources; some fishing villages have reported more than doubling their fisheries catch as a result. 

Meanwhile, a number Territorial Use Rights Fisheries (TURFs) have been established in all four countries to act as a model for establishing other community-led fishery management systems in future. 

The number of communities or villages that are members of a TURF varies in each country and area. In addition, involving two or more communities in a single TURF requires a Co-Management Association (CMA) to be established to represent all member communities in running the fishery.

Sierra Leone, for example, has legally registered 15 TURFS as CMAs, while in Senegal 12 communities are members of eight TURFs, all being registered as CMAs.

Meanwhile, tracking the impact of improved management measures on fishery resources as part of the West Africa regional fisheries scheme includes monitoring two selected over-exploited fisheries in each of the four countries. 

Although it is still early to document signs of recovery with certainty, coastal shrimp numbers in Senegal and Sierra Leone already are reported to be showing signs of recovery along with spiny lobster in Cape Verde.

Among other developments attributable to the regional fisheries programme, Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde have almost all achieved 100% registration rates for their artisanal fishing fleets. 

Cape Verde, for example, has piloted an incentive-based registration scheme which is now considered as best practice in West Africa.

Although dramatic improvements already are being reported, the West Africa fisheries programme target of establishing sustainable management systems has still to be achieved and is the current focus of efforts as the World Bank-backed scheme draws to a close.

Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cape Verde still have to finalise and roll out their sustainable fisheries policy reforms which are due to include secured long term fishing rights for coastal communities.

In Liberia, the bank’s project team reported, the country’s new revised fisheries law has integrated a rights-based approach to coastal fisheries, while in Cape Verde the fisheries law recently has been revised but still requires fisheries management plans to be completed.

In Senegal, revision of the legal framework is nearing completion, while in Sierra Leone a rights-based approach to community fishing has been approved in principle and is being integrated into the fishery policy framework.

Senegal, in fact, already has implemented a robust management system for industrial scale fishing, having reduced the number of large fishing vessels operating in the country’s waters from 117 in 2005 to 2012 vessels in 2012 by operating a fishing boat buy-back scheme to reduce overfishing. 

The buy-back scheme’s success is evident as some fishing boat owners are reported to have rejected government buy-back offers as fishing recently has become more profitable due to fewer large fishing vessels being in operation.

Meanwhile, in a new development, the Senegal fishing authority’s focus is switching to managing the nation’s fast growing artisanal fishing fleet.

From 13,000 canoes in 2009, the number of officially registered fishing canoes has grown to around 21,000 at present as more coastal communities look to marine fisheries to improve their livelihood.

Meanwhile, new infrastructure facilities are under construction in West Africa to support fisheries development by providing fishing harbour and storage facilities capable of handling large fishing vessels.

In Liberia, for example, construction has started at Robertsport on Mesurado Pier which will be designed to handle large fishing vessels.

Elsewhere, in Sierra Leone, construction has started in Konakreedee on modern fish harbour facilities, while in Cape Verde construction is well underway on a cold storage facility on Sal Island to hold fishery products prior to export.

Meanwhile, a recent study funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) has estimated the value added by the fisheries sector as a whole to all African countries in 2011 as US$24 billion or 1.26% the continent’s entire combined GDP.

Due to be published shortly, the study ‘The value of African fisheries’ was carried out in the framework of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development NEPAD-FAO Fisheries Programme with the aim of estimating the contribution of fisheries to African nation’s GDPs and the employment generated by the whole fisheries sector including fishing, processing, licensing of local fleets, and aquaculture.

Total industrial scale marine fisheries including fishing, processing and licenses were worth $6.8 billion in 2011, the study revealed, while total artisanal marine fisheries including fishing, processing and licensing were worth $8.1 billion annually.

Although aquaculture is still developing in Africa and is concentrated mostly in a few countries, it is worth $2.8 billion a year already, the study found. 

Total inland fisheries, including fishing, processing and licenses, were worth $6.3 billion in total for all African countries.

In addition to the estimated value added of $24 billion in 2011, the FAO conservatively estimates that African countries received around $400 million in fishing licensing fees from foreign companies for fishing rights in their exclusive economic zones. 

The FAO points out that with 25% of all marine catches around Africa’s lengthy coastline being landed by non-African fishing vessels, the potential value added to local economies could be far higher than the $400 million received in fishing license fees if African fishing fleets also accounted for this portion of the continent’s total marine catch.

Morocco is Africa’s largest marine capture fisheries nation with a total marine catch of 1.16 million metric tons (mt) in 2012, up 22% compared with the previous year, ranking the country 18th in the world for marine capture fisheries.

Africa still lags behind the rest of the world in marine fishing boat technology with about 64% of marine fishing vessels used in Africa being non-motorised in 2012, according to the study, compared with a world average of 30% and the same average of 30% for fishing boats used in Asia.

Inland fisheries
Inland fisheries, meanwhile, are important in Africa where 2.7 million mt or one third of the continent’s total wild capture fisheries comes from inland waters. 

Uganda is Africa’s largest inland fisheries producer recording a catch of 408,000 mt in 2012 and ranking sixth in the world.

Nigeria is the second largest producer with a catch of 312,000 mt in 2012, followed by Egypt with 240,000 mt and Democratic Republic of the Congo with 214,000 mt.

Aquaculture also offers important growth potential. Egypt is the continent’s largest producer with total production of 1.02 million mt in 2012, all fin fish reared inland using mainly saline water. Aquaculture production recently has grown quickly in West Africa where some 455,000 mt of farmed fish were produced in 2012.

Fishing and fisheries-related activities are important sources of employment in Africa and job opportunities could grow in countries where important fisheries resources remain undeveloped.

The study estimates that the fisheries sector as a whole employs 12.3 million people as full-time fishermen or full and part-time processors, representing 2.1% of Africa’s population aged between 15 and 64 years old.

Fishers represent half of all people employed in fisheries while 42.4% are processors and 7.5% work in aquaculture.

Women account for about 27.3% of all people employed in fisheries-related activities, representing 58% of those working as processors. Women, however, represent just 3.6% of fishers and 4% of those working in aquaculture.

In terms of regional employment trends, the study found that a high percentage of those employed in processing live in western and southern Africa, while in East African countries the number of fishermen often exceeds that of processors.

Nigeria is ranked first in Africa with two million people employed in fisheries and aquaculture followed by Morocco with almost 1.4 million people and Uganda with 1 million.

However, in terms of fishers, Morocco is ranked first with 870,000 fishers, followed by Nigeria with 790,000 and Uganda 470,000 and Mali 350,000 fishers.

Nigeria has the most processors, with over one million people employed in fisheries processing, followed by Morocco with slightly over 500,000, then Uganda 420,000 and Ghana 385,000.

Aquaculture, as noted already, is more developed in North Africa where Egypt has 580,000 people working on fish farms, followed by West Africa where 135,000 people are employed in aquaculture and Ghana with 53,000.

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